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Manhattan

Akwaba - Senegalese in Harlem

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Restaurants & Bars

Akwaba - Senegalese in Harlem

racer x | Jun 9, 2008 08:51 PM

Still sulking over not being able to get my fix of Ghanaian food at Florence's, which seems to be closed (at least for the moment), I decided to try a West African place I hadn't yet been to -- this time a little closer to home than further west on 116th where most of the restaurants are. Akwaba is on the south side of 116th between Madison and Park. The time I ventured there, 9:30pm, was late to be out on a Monday night, at least from the looks of most of the shops in the neighborhood, nearly all of which were shuttered. Even the Mexican restaurants down the block, although open, were empty. I almost didn't go in to Akwaba because, although the door itself wasn't shuttered, the windows on either side of the door were, leading me to think it was closed. Fortunately, a customer came out and reassured me they were still quite open.

Sure enough, a very attractive young server was bringing large platters of fish to a table of 4 or 5 diners as I walked in and other customers walked out with carryout orders. A small tv was on in a corner, and a West African pop song was softly playing in the background. The small restaurant has got to be just about the cleanest West African restaurant I have encountered in the 5 boroughs (and in several other large US cities, for that matter). I had high hopes for the food.

As with many Senegalese restaurants in the city, the dinner menu is limited to a handful of Senegalese standards, such as lamb or chicken kebabs, fried or broiled fish, and grilled or roast lamb or chicken, along with sides of couscous, plantain, rice, attieke, fries, or vermicelli. On weekends, appetizers such as pasteles (fish empanadas) and nem (a Senegalese eggroll) are also available. The lunch menu includes the famous Senegalese dish thiebou djeun, as well as a number of soups and stews (which is what I really wanted).

I opted for dibi with alloko. The dibi (grilled lamb cutlets) were hacked into bite-sized morsels (at most of the restaurants, they are usually larger lamb cutlets), and served with a mustard-based onion sauce. The taste was very disappointing. With most restaurants, I usually can't eat dibi without wishing there was more when I reach the last piece. This particular order of dibi just wasn't very good. It seemed as if it had been cooked much earlier and reheated; perhaps it could have been more appetizing with better seasoning. It also didn't help that the kitchen had put a large dollop of Dijon mustard (which I don't like with my dibi) over about a third of the dibi. The alloko was not sufficiently ripe, just making matters worse.

I'd like to hear how others have found the food at Akwaba. Based on my one experience I probably wouldn't go back, since there are so many other choices in the neighborhood. However, I might have just gone at a bad time or gotten a single dish that was off -- I'd be willing to give them another try if others have had good experiences there.

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